We are going for a couple of very clear and very cold nights. While many of you may prefer to snuggle in a fire, the avid backyard astronomers will gather and leave.
Winter is one of the best stations for observing stars, constellations and planets. In June, July, and August, the entire Earth faces the center of the Milky Way galaxy. We are looking at the combined light of billions of stars. The combined light of so many distant stars gives the sky a hazy quality.
The night skies of December, January and February are clearer and clearer because we are looking for the opposite way – far from the center of the galaxy. There are fewer stars between us and extragalactic space.
Our week interval between climatic systems is perfectly timed. On Friday morning, January 31, and possibly even on Saturday morning, a slender, crescent moon will glide across the planets Jupiter, Venus and, if you are lucky enough to see it, Saturn.
The moon rises first, followed by Jupiter and then Venus and finally Saturn. Given clear skies and an unobstructed horizon towards the sunrise, it will be easy to catch the moon, Venus and Jupiter. So keep watching. The planets and the moon will still be there, and the illuminated side of the moon will be pointing toward Saturn. Saturn is now returning east before dawn. It's still not very prominent and will be relatively low on the horizon, so you may have trouble seeing it, but it's worth a try – the chance to see Saturn is very exciting.
Friday morning, the moon and Saturn will be very close in the southern sky. This should facilitate identification. On Friday the moon will have 27 days, which means it will be the smallest of a waning crescent and only five percent illuminated. The old moon – as it is known – will not cause much light pollution to interfere with its ability to see Saturn.
If you find other diamonds in the sky and are wondering what they can be, this little trick can help: stars shine – not planets.
The stars are so far from Earth that the point of light is good and is distorted by the Earth's atmosphere. The planets are closer to us and have a wider point – the edges distort, but not the center point – so that the planets do not twinkle.
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Cindy Day is the main meteorologist for the SaltWire Network.